Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rebutting Keith Augustine's Objections To The Near Death Experience

Here's Some Rebuttals to The Objections Raised By Keith Augustine

Some of those patients who had NDEs had zero electrical activity in the brain, so, yes they were, if not brain dead, at least brain frozen. Without electrical activity, how is there neurological activity? Mental activity, however, is another question. It remains that mental activity continued without neurological activity.

(1) None of the patients who report NDEs could have been brain dead, for brain death is irreversible.

Some of those patients who had NDEs had zero electrical activity in the brain, so, yes they were, if not brain dead, at least brain frozen. Without electrical activity, how is there neurological activity? Mental activity, however, is another question. It remains that mental activity continued without neurological activity.

But of course, during that time the brain's capacity to "hallucinate" and memorize is physically impossible.

(2) NDEs occur in only one-third of all cases where there is a near-death crisis.

Exactly, if NDEs are just a standardized physiological response to dying why are they so relatively uncommon?

(3) The details of NDEs depend almost exclusively upon the individual's personal and cultural background.

Not quite, it is a consistent feature of a NDEs that they don't tend to rigidly reflect the expectations of the experiencer, particularly the more religious ones, the NDEs hardly resemble notions of Christian or Jewish heaven. Saint Peter, Christ, Moses, pearly gates, harp music, and angels with wings are entirely absent (with the exception of a very few who believe that the being of light is Christ or another religious figure in spite of the fact that this being possesses none of the appropriate physical attributes), in fact people returning will often end up less religious/dogmatic and more spiritual.

This is why NDE research is openly condemmed by certain religious groups, they feel threatened by it.

(4) Physiological and psychological factors affect the content of NDEs. Noises, tunnels, bright lights, and other beings are more common in physiological conditions directly affecting the brain state, such as cardiac arrest and anesthesia, whereas euphoria, mystical feelings, life review, and positive transformation can occur when people simply believe they are going to die.

Certainly, someone in the position of Dr Fenwick would have all the technical knowledge to accurately assess whether or not the NDE can be explained by what is happening in the dying brain. Dr Fenwick states that these psychologists write absolute rubbish when they venture into areas of knowledge outside their technical expertise, knowledge they don't have, don't understand and which is outside their everyday work.

He is scathing with the skeptics:

(They) just don't have the knowledge...So much rubbish is talked about Near-Death Experiences by people who don't have to deal with these things on a daily basis. So I'm absolutely sure that such experiences are not caused by oxygen shortages, endorphins or anything of that kind. And certainly none of these things would account for the transcendental quality of many of these experiences, the fact that people feel an infinite sense of loss when they leave them behind (Fenwick 1995: 47).

As a consultant neuro-psychiatrist he constantly works with people who are confused, disoriented and brain-damaged and as Dr Fenwick points out:

What is quite clear is that any disorientation of brain function leads to a disorientation of perception and reduced memory. You can't normally get highly-structured and clearly remembered experiences from a highly damaged or disoriented brain (Fenwick 1995: 47).

He likewise refutes the endorphin argument:

As for that stuff about endorphins, we're boosting the effect they have all the time because thousands of people are given morphine every day. That certainly produces calmness, but it doesn't produce structured experiences (Fenwick 1995: 47).

Closed-minded skeptics are asked to answer the following questions:

• If the NDE is the effect of a dying brain it should happen to everyone who is dying. Why is it that not all of those who are near death whose brain is 'dying' experience a NDE?

• If the NDE is wish fulfillment, why is it that not every NDE experience is a positive one? Why is it that some experience a neutral and/or a horrific negative NDE as documented by Phyllis Atwater (1994).

• If the NDE is caused by the release of endorphins, what objective evidence exists to show that the release of endorphins necessarily elicits a life review in an orderly way?

• What objective evidence exists to show that the release of endorphins leads to the breakdown of a sense of time and its relationship to 'self'?

• Why is it that nearly all those who have a NDE undergo a permanent transformation which is consistent with spiritual refinement, a more refined way of living?

• Why is it that most experiencers relate their newly found intrinsic motivation to the powerful experience they had out of the body?

• What objective proof is presented to show that understanding of the role of the limbic system and temporal lobe can account for the experiences of familiarity, insight and deja vu and the statistically significant increase in psychic experiences that follow NDEs?

• How do the skeptics explain the incredible consistencies between NDEs and OBEs?

The question also arises as to why most people who have a temporary lack of oxygen to the brain as in the case of those who faint from an intense experience of horror, pain, or fear (neurogenic shock) do not experience NDEs. Shock or the lack of perfusion of oxygen to the brain is very common in many medical situations but is not associated with NDE-like experience at all. For instance, patients who sustain a great deal of blood loss but do not stop breathing also have brains that are starved for oxygen. NDEs are not associated with such situations. It is only when the heart stops beating and breathing stops and the body appears to be dead that NDEs occur. This simple observation calls the hypoxia-related theories into question."

(5) The core features of NDEs are found in drug-induced and naturally occurring hallucinations.

"Ketamine certainly does not cause NDEs to occur though it appears to sometimes cause the dissociation where the mind separates from the body in a way that appears similar to what occurs in many NDEs.

Why is it that during NDEs, such "hallucinations" consist of swimmers seeing themselves drowning. Why do people with allergic reactions in their home or children hit by cars while riding bicycles see themselves flying through space following ambulances to emergency rooms? Why do people in hospitals repeatedly watch themselves being given CPR?

The scientific answer to such questions brings us back to the projection of fantasy worlds and social conditioning arguments but, as stated earlier, if the mind is so good at creating hallucinations of accident scenes, hospital rooms, and operating room procedures, why is the same mind so bad at creating hallucinations of God the Father, angels, Saint Peter, Moses, and heaven?

The fact that a specific drug can cause "hallucinations" is not a new or unusual discovery. Therefore, the importance of ketamine research depends on the quality and contents of the hallucinations and their similarity to the NDE experience if they are to help researchers understand near-death experience better.

Without precise statistics, it is difficult to know the contents of the hallucinations of patients under ketamine influence but I suspect that their subject matter does not mimic the complex, detailed, and highly structured kinds of out-of-body experiences of people who have NDEs.
(6) The panoramic life review closely resembles a form of temporal lobe epilepsy. There are even cases where epileptics have had OBEs or "seen" apparitions of dead friends and relatives during their seizures. Also ketamine experiences are describe as often frightening and involve bizarre imagery, and patients usually express the wish not to repeat the experience. Most ketamine users also recognize the illusory character of their experience, in contrast to the many NDE experiencers who are firmly convinced of the reality of what they experienced and its lack of resemblance to illusions or dreams.

Sure, but they had otherwise functional brains with measurable EEG activity, such vivid hallucinations and the capacity to remember them aren't physically possible when the brain is flatlined, as is the case with many if not most NDEs.

(7) Computer simulations of random neural firing based on eye-brain mapping of the visual cortex have produced the tunnel and light characteristic of NDEs.

Huh? Human brains aren't digital computers.

(8) The fact that naloxone- an opiate antagonist that inhibits the effects of endorphins on the brain- terminates near-death experiences provides some confirmation for the endorphin theory of NDEs.

"Terminate" how exactly?

(9) NDEs can be induced by direct electrical stimulation of brain areas surrounding the Sylvian fissure in the right temporal lobe.

"Olaf Blanke, a neurologist at the Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland, made the "discovery" while performing surgery. He stimulated the right angular gyrus, a small region in the brain's right hemisphere, of a women and triggered out-of-body experiences. The patient told doctors, "I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk." Subsequent zaps with the electrodes were reported to replicate the effect.

In Dr. Blanke's case, we have a situation where one or more doctors interacting with a single patient inadvertently applied a stimulus (stimulation by a electrode to the brain) and "caused" an out-of-body experience. The patient was also prone to "a brain disorder that causes seizures", and therefore not an ideal subject for such an experiment. The credibility of the patient was not questioned, and it appears that an earlier milder stimulus did not cause an OBE but only a change in body image where the body image was distorted in the patient's view (the arm and legs were first shortened and later appeared to be flying up towards the patient's head).

Having read many out-of-body experience descriptions myself, I have never read about one where only half the person's body (the lower half in this case) appeared. The patient's preception seems quite confused and distorted when compared with more common out-of-body experiences where the person sees his or her entire body in an OBE state. The theory also fails to account for the overall environment that is perceived as in the case of an OBE were the body of the person is seen against the backdrop of an operating or hospital room. There seems to be no explanation as to how the angular gyrus portion of the brain is able to construct a three-dimensional birds-eye view of the the surrounding environment which contains the physical body. The brain would be required to somehow contain a holographic model of the room in order to create such a reconstruction and then be able to place the person's body image in the midst of the hologram. The theory would also require the person to be able to move and change the point of view within the hologram as is common in many NDEs and OBE"

(10) The tunnels described in NDEs vary considerably in form. If NDEs reflected an external reality, then one would expect consistency in the form of tunnel experiences reported.

They often tend to change over the duration of the passage through, the field starts out as a pinpoint or small circle, which may or may not increase in size during the "tunnel experience". It generally does not decrease in size. In some cases, the light at the end of the tunnel gradually grows to engulf the individual as he or she nears the end of the tunnel. The tunnel experienced during an NDE is usually 3-dimensional and surrounds the individual while.

(11) NDE cases have been reported where the patient has identified the "beings of light" as the medical staff making resuscitation attempts.

11) Certainly - NDE experiences occasionally have such features. Perhaps people are mistaken about who are the beings of light, or, and I find this more likely, these are the last "beings of light" witnessed, and this occurs when the person is regaining consciousness and sees dimly a bright hospital room.
But, if not, we see the obvious corollary - if these beings were trying to resuscitate the person, obviously he/she was unconscious, and yet having a real, i.e. with a basis in reality, experience - mental activity occurring in the absence of neurological activity.

(12) Children who suffer NDEs are more likely to see living friends and family members than ones who have died.

PMH Atwater in her book, "The Complete Idiots Guide To Near-Death Experiences", states that in those cases where children and people saw living friends and living relatives, it was merely as an introductory calming event to ease the transition of the person to the other side, and that after this initial calming phase ended, the "living person" disappeared, and did not reappear in the rest of the NDE event.

1 comment:

Walter said...

Augustine and his critics are discussing their rather silly opinions. So-called "near-death" experiences have an objective reason for their inherent unreliability. The person did not die.
For Augustine, a rather scattered hater of Christianity, to make conclusions about NON-data is silly and to complain about it is sillier yet. Of course Paranormal allows comments and Augustine is too paranoid to do so